The Cantini Mosaic is a public art installation created by Virgil Cantini in 1964, and installed in a pedestrian underpass beneath Bigelow Boulevard near Chatham Street in Pittsburgh’s Central Business District. It consists of 28 abstract sculptural mosaic panels, designed as two sections of 14 panels, made of cast concrete and glass tiles. The panels were intentionally installed in a deliberate order and arrangement for people passing through in either direction.
The art piece was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority specifically for the pedestrian underpass as a part of the Lower Hill Redevelopment program.
In 2017, the City of Pittsburgh approved plans for the "Cap" Project, a new three-acre public space spanning a structure over a portion of the I-579 Crosstown Boulevard. This project was funded by a federal grant given to the City of Pittsburgh, partnering with the Sports and Exhibition Authority. The area to be affected by this project included the site of the Cantini Mosaic. Final designs for the Cap Project, shown at the November 2017 Art Commission hearing, can be found here. This presentation included a courtesy review of the Cantini Mosaic.
Soon after, a group of preservationists contacted the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PA SHPO) about their interest in saving the mosaics. Due to the federal funding in place for the I-579 CAP Project, the Section 106 consultation process was initiated. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires that federal agencies assess the effects of projects or permits on historic properties. Determining if a property is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is one of the steps in the consultation process.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), delegated to manage the Section 106 process on behalf of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), invited individuals to create the Consulting Parties to help inform the NRHP eligibility review. Based on the original information submitted, PennDOT determined that the Cantini Mosaic Tunnel did not meet the criteria to be eligible for the NRHP. Later, the Consulting Parties provided additional information regarding the Cantini Mosaic Tunnel’s historical significance and in May 2018, FHWA and PA SHPO agreed that the Tunnel is eligible for listing in the NRHP as a public works project of high artistic value.
As a result, PennDOT (on behalf of the FHWA) determined that the demolition and removal of the Cantini Mosaic Tunnel would have an adverse effect, and developed a programmatic agreement to resolve the adverse effects. This agreement outlines the requirement for the removal of the mosaic and its eventual relocation within five years. In late 2018, the agreement was signed by the City of Pittsburgh, the Sports and Exhibition Authority, FHWA, PA SHPO, and the Consulting Parties.
As part of the programmatic agreement, the signatories developed a “Character Defining Features” document to guide the identification and evaluation of potential locations for the reinstallation of the Cantini Mosaic. These guiding principles include:
- Publicly accessible (ideally in a City-owned space)
- Highly traveled pedestrian corridor
- Two vertical walls, of at least approximately 60’ in length and 8’ high
- Covered for protection from the elements
- Lighting to maximize reflectivity, through a potential combination of natural light, reflected light, and projected light
In April 2019, the Mosaic panels were removed and placed into City storage. Later that year, the tunnel was demolished to begin construction of the Cap.
In late 2020 E. Holdings, Inc was engaged by the City of Pittsburgh as a consultant and project coordinator to guide the process of identifying a new location for the reconceptualization of the Mosaic.
To learn more about the Mosaic and the Section 106 process, please visit these links:
A short video showing the setting and expanse of the mosaic
An article about Virgil Cantini and his public art projects
The Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Blog
Information on the Cap Project from the Sports and Exhibition Authority
Information on the Section 106 process
A presentation on Cantini and the Section 106 process (starts at minute 31)
A 1964 article from the Pittsburgh Press about the Mosaic
A public meeting to review potential sites for the relocation and reconceptualization of the Mosaic was held on August 2, 2021 at 11am via Zoom.
The presentation from the meeting can be found at this link, and below you can find a video recording of the meeting as well as the question and answer session.
The public comment period regarding potential sites is now closed. Thank you to all who contributed their thoughts and ideas!
Details of the Mosaic's relocation and reconceptualized installation are currently being finalized by the City.
Cantini Mosaic Public Meeting, August 2 2021
Questions & Answers from the Public Meeting
Given that the mosaics were designed with the context of the Lower Hill in mind, why are there no alternative locations approaching or within the Lower Hill?
The project team met with representatives from the Hill District CDC and a Hill District artist group called #ArtsInHD. The individuals we spoke with preferred that the mosaic be relocated to a site that was not within the Hill District.
Would the Steel Plaza T Station site include additional new lighting?
Yes, improved lighting on both sides of the corridor would be included in the installation plan.
The Point State Park and riverfront trail locations seem to be less accessible to the public and more unknown, and the riverfront location especially would be conducive to graffiti and other vandalism.
The Point State Park location is accessible but is not widely known, so would require some wayfinding signage to direct people to it. The riverfront trail would also be accessible. The possibility of graffiti and vandalism would be something to consider in evaluating this location.
The ramp next to the USX Tower is outside the Lower Hill but uses the same approach to the intersection near the old tunnel location.
This location was not looked at specifically but this information can be evaluated during the next steps in the project.
The Point State Park location looks like it has a gate, is it closed at times?
As each potential site undergoes further evaluation, the City will make sure this question is addressed and taken into consideration.
Are there other locations being considered? I like a place that can be accessed by the public day or night.
The project team has considered many other locations. These three have been proposed because they meet all the necessary criteria and have been approved for further evaluation by the Key Stakeholders. Suggestions for alternative locations will also be considered. The team is taking nighttime factors such as graffiti and public safety have been taken into consideration.
The Art Commission approved the relocation of the Cantini Mosaic on July 27, 2022.
The video from that hearing can be found below.